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Archive for the ‘Insights from the kids’ Category

One of the most valuable lessons on parenting came from my son [among many others he’s dished out from time to time J ] a long time ago. He was about 8 at the time and beginning to find it harder and harder to cope with the demands of mainstream schooling.

Having recognized and acknowledged his limited cognitive abilities [I deliberately held off on a formal diagnosis of intellectual disability for as long as I could] when he was just an infant, it seemed to make sense to get into ‘remedial’ mode as quickly as possible.

My mother and I both came from backgrounds in Child Development and it was natural to come up with all kinds of special teaching-learning material to enable him to develop all kinds of skills – language, cognitive, motor, even social-emotional ones. He was read to from storybooks from the time he was just a few days old…. And we took him with us everywhere we went, even playing vocabulary and number games on bus journeys to and from his preschool [the lab preschool was conveniently located in the college I taught in, in those days].

And I am still willing to credit many of those early intervention efforts to his present ability to communicate in several languages, be sensitive to what is happening around him, dress and take care of his personal hygiene needs. Not that these are skills developed adequately enough for him to function independently, but he gets by… and a little more.

 

Yet, there came a day when he spontaneously turned to me and said… “Don’t teach me… let’s just play!” Intuitively, he had grasped that everything I did with him almost always had a ‘goal’, a definite purpose. The ‘mothering’ was always tempered with the ‘teaching’…. But that remark startled me… and got me thinking again…

Because it was true… I did always have my antennae up and alert for possible ‘teaching moments’, any experience was milked for all it was worth… whether they were home chores we did together, or just colouring on a piece of paper. I didn’t even spare his beloved miniature cars! They were used to form alphabets and numbers so he could learn to read and count. Even dramatic play often masked vocabulary and a focus on the meaning of words….

Coming along on field trips with the college students was par for the course, as was attending a conference or training programme. Those were probably the only times when attention wasn’t focused on him…. And he picked up a whole lot by just being around… just seeing many things… and meeting many different people…

And it kept me wondering whether I was being a little too enthusiastic about teaching him everything I could…. Whether I was pushing him beyond his capabilities….? What goals should I actively pursue? What kind of ‘intervention’ ? When should I let everything just ‘be’?

It was hard [and continues to be hard] to achieve just the right balance….But there is one thing I have become more and more convinced of; and that is the need for different responses in different situations and feel encouraged because I have developed the flexibility.

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Anand asked this question over 20 years ago… and I still don’t have an answer… at least not a convincing one [to me at any rate!].

We were headed to the Bust Stop at Flora Fountain, at Bombay [Hutatma Chowk, Mumbai] to get into the long queue for our regular 84 Ltd that would take us straight home from college [Anand used to attend the lab preschool at Nirmala Niketan where I taught Child Development in those days].

And the families of flower sellers that were in semi permanent residence near the stop was busy with their afternoon chores as usual. Some busy with the task of stringing together garlands that someone like me might buy to adorn their hair with, others grooming themselves or combing their children’s hair, yet others washing their few utensils post the mid day meal.

A few kids were off to one side, playing in the dirt with stones and broken bits of toys. Unkempt hair, snot running down from their noses, torn and dirty clothes. Quite different from the care and attention lavished on Anand. As we passed them, he commented [fortunately directing it at me] “Dirty!” Embarrassed, I tried explaining to him that they couldn’t help it… they didn’t have a nice home like us to live in, with running water 24 hours a day… the usual attempt to get away from feeling guilty about the socio-economic difference. He seemed satisfied and we proceeded to stand in line.

It was a long wait, not unlike other days. One of the slightly older kids from the flower seller’s family [couldn’t have been more than 6], with a year old baby on her hips  started her begging round. Something I always wished I could escape… Feeling bad, yet not wanting to reinforce the begging habit. Feeling that contributing to organizations that would support them was a more meaningful way to help out. But that day I was out of luck… The little one came and stood right next to us, looking beseechingly at us as she held out her hand asking for 10 paise [It was still valid currency in those days!]. I, with averted eyes, after saying “no”…

Till I was brought to another plane of realization… Anand accusing me – “Why aren’t you giving her any money? Didn’t you just say they didn’t have any?”

Over the years, I have continued to work in different projects that are aimed at making a difference in children’s lives. But I am still haunted by the look in that little girl’s eyes and the question that remains unanswered ……

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